A group of students holds hands and forms a circle near the Rock. After pausing for a few minutes, the group looks to Communication freshman Christie Stiehl to begin the countdown. When the group reaches one, everyone screams. The silence is broken.
Wednesday’s Day of Silence, sponsored by the Rainbow Alliance and the Women’s Center at Northwestern, allowed NU students to take part in a nationwide protest against the discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students. This was NU’s fifth year participating in the event.
Students were asked to remain silent from the time they woke up until 6 p.m., when students met at the Rock to simultaneously scream and break their silence. A discussion at Norris followed, so that students could share their experiences.
Stiehl, secretary of Rainbow Alliance, co-organized NU’s Day of Silence. She said the event symbolizes the silence some LGBT students must keep about their sexuality each day.
“We’re silent to acknowledge the fact that LGBT students are still oppressed and harassed and bullied in schools,” Stiehl said. “It is a protest letting people know that there are allies out there and there are people that support them.”
To promote the event, Stiehl and her publicity team flyered campus and invited over 1,000 people to the event through Facebook. An informational meeting was held Monday to hand out buttons, speaking cards, and stickers to supporters. By Wednesday, all of those materials had been passed out to others.
Coming from a Catholic school that did not support a Gay-Straight Alliance, Stiehl said her experience organizing the event at NU has been pleasantly different.
“Northwestern has been an amazing experience for me because I have been able to flyer and to put as much energy as I could into the day, because there wasn’t that force that wasn’t letting me do it,” she said.
Anyone who is in a position to do something should act, Medill freshman Joseph Lyons said, because it’s an issue of social justice. He participated in the Day of Silence for the first time this year, he said.
“If someone is considering their own sexuality and trying to figure out if it’s okay to be who they are, one more person showing support can make a difference,” Lyons said.
Lyons said he received compliments and encouragement Wednesday whenever someone noticed his Day of Silence button or saw that card that explained why he wasn’t talking.
Communication freshman Kevin Fugaro also decided to keep silent for part of the day, having participated in the event at his San Francisco high school for the past two years. Although he said it was easy for Northwestern students to avoid talking because of midterms and other work to focus on, Fugaro said the rewards of the day are eye-opening.
“The ultimate goal is to give you time to experience what it’s like to be in the closet and how easy it is to feel lonely even when you’re part of a community,” Fugaro said. “I think falling into silence is the most dangerous thing you can do. By putting yourself in the position of someone who’s done that, you’re kind of able to empathize with them. It goes beyond sympathy.”